Women generally have between eleven and thirteen periods each year - each one normally lasting an average of four to seven days. Many women, however don’t fall within these “normal” ranges.
To start with, it can take several years after the onset of menstruation for the hormones to level out and for the menstrual cycle to become established. In order to accurately evaluate what is irregular, a woman must first establish what regular is, to her as an individual.
There comes a point for most women when they have a “menstrual moment.” They may wonder why their period is late or why it didn’t come at all. Many women automatically assume that they might be pregnant and although pregnancy is the most common cause of missed periods, it most definitely isn’t the only reason.
Here are some common reasons that women may experience irregular periods:
- Extreme fluctuations in weight. Low body fat in women is a known cause of amenorrhea or the absence of menstruation. If a woman’s body fat level dips below the 16% mark, the ovaries will stop producing estrogen and the menstrual cycle will also cease. By the same token, rapid weight gain causes stress on the body and can cause irregularity or suppression of regular periods.
- Medications. There are many medications that can cause an imbalance in hormones and contribute to irregular menstruation. For example, starting or changing contraceptives often disrupts regular cycles. In addition, some antidepressants, antipsychotics and opiates can affect the menstrual cycle. Make sure you read the contraindications of any medication that you are taking, to determine if your period or menstrual cycle could be affected.
- Perimenopause. This phase in a woman’s life is the gradual, transitory period where regular menstrual cycles of ovulation cease, ushering in menopause. One of the symptoms of perimenopause is irregular or missed periods. This happens over a very broad age range amongst women.
- Hormone conditions. Conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome and thyroid gland (endocrine) malfunction are characterized by an imbalance in hormone production which, in turn, causes disturbances in the menstrual cycle.
- Emotional stress. Some stress in life is normal but many women don’t realise that the menstrual cycle is directly tied to overall well-being. So it’s no surprise that emotional stress is the second most common cause of late or missed periods.
It’s not uncommon for women to fall into an irregular cycle or even miss a period from time to time. In most cases this is considered completely normal and nothing to be alarmed about.
If extreme changes occur suddenly or continue for more than a month or two, it’s strongly advised to see your doctor for their professional opinion.